The Bears pulled the plug on the Kevin White project a year ago, effectively putting an end to the 2015 seventh overall pick’s time in Chicago halfway through the 2018 season. White was active for only two of the Bears’ final nine games, playing five special teams snaps on Thanksgiving and then getting one final shot in a largely meaningless Week 17 trip to Minnesota.
A key difference between White and Adam Shaheen — who was a healthy scratch on Sunday for the first time in his career — is White was not expected to be a critical part of the Bears’ offense in 2018. He was the team’s fifth receiver, behind the starting core of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller and versatile special teamer Josh Bellamy. His success or failure was never going to dictate much within the Bears’ offense.
Shaheen, though, entered 2019 as the Bears’ top “Y” (in-line) tight end in an offense geared toward his position (the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, the two most similar offenses to the Bears, each have two tight ends on the field on about a third of their snaps). The Bears needed him to contribute as a run blocker and, at the least, be a receiving threat in the red zone.
None of those things happened over the first eight games of 2019, with Shaheen trending from invisibility to liability. So the question for the 45th overall pick in 2017’s NFL Draft is: Where does he go from here in Chicago?
“We want all of our players to be able to be completely detailed and play hard and do everything they can to be the best player they can be,” coach Matt Nagy said, rather pointedly, when asked what Shaheen needed to do to be active on gamedays again.
Compare what Nagy said about Shaheen to what he said about White the Monday after de-activating him last year:
“Kevin’s worrying about doing what he can do as best as he can, and however that fits into what we do, he’ll do that. He’s been great. He really has.”
If White couldn’t get back on the field with his coach publicly praising him, what hope is there for Shaheen to get back on the field when his coach talks about the details and playing hard?
More specifically, tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride pointed to Shaheen’s issues as a run blocker in terms of footwork, pad level and finishing. Realistically, it’ll be difficult for Shaheen to show the kind of growth during practice over the next few weeks that would overcome what he put on tape in the Bears’ first eight games.
When the Bears picked Shaheen from Division-II Ashland in the second round of 2017’s draft, general manager Ryan Pace lauded his athletic upside as a pass catcher. His run blocking skills were always going to have to be developed. But the receiving aspect of his game hasn’t come around, either — of the 136 tight ends taken in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft from 1999-2019, Shaheen’s 26 career receptions rank 111th.
So that Shaheen was a second rounder doesn’t matter to the 2019 Bears and an offensive coaching staff that was not in place when he was picked. This team needs to get its best players on the field to fix one of the worst offenses in the NFL, and collectively coaches determined Shaheen is not one of those players.
“I don’t ever really have that in my mind that he was a second round pick,” Gilbride said. “You’re just trying to get that guy to execute, whether he’s a second round pick, free agent, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is he going to help your football team win games. That’s why you have him on the team. So each week we go into the gameplanning meetings try to see who best helps us fit that role to help our football team.”
The Bears only owe Shaheen a little over $600,000 in 2020, per Spotrac, so money would not be a deterrent to cutting him three years into his four-year rookie contract (he’ll have been paid $4,639,556 by the end of the year). At this point, Shaheen’s future in Chicago doesn’t look promising, though he could get back on the field if, say, Trey Burton’s calf injury rules him out of Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
If Shaheen does play again, he needs to take advantage of the opportunity. Because time is running out for him and the Bears to make good on the upside they saw in him two and a half years ago.
“As a competitor, you better want to do everything you can (to play again),” Gilbride said. “If it’s up to me to motivate him that’s exactly what I’ll tell him, as far as well, you’ve gotta compete, make sure that your skillset and what you bring to the table is enough to get you a suit on Sundays.”